This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Test and Promote for Appy Ever After

Some schools are developing mobile apps for a variety audiences: students, faculty, and staff, even the general public. The purposes also vary, from news alerts, security warnings, and event information to campus maps, bookstore purchases, and mobile access to school systems.

The one thing all of these apps have in common is their likelihood of failure. According to CIO magazine, most people download an app, use it once, and that’s it. Some 78% of apps never get used again. “This is part of the reason why the majority of mobile strategies stall, according to a recent Accenture survey of nearly 1,500 C-level executives,” noted writer Tom Kaneshige.

Ongoing promotion and helpdesk support are among the key factors for getting people in the habit of using an app regularly. Usability testing with the target audience, especially early in the development process, can help resolve confusing interfaces and clumsy or unwanted features before they get in the hands of users.

Once an app has been released, tracking and parsing analytics can reveal how people are actually using the app. “Follow the launch with social media and internal forums for users to provide feedback and increase app awareness,” the article suggested. “In fact, feedback is so valuable that a CIO might want to offer a monetary or recognition reward for it.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Georgia Works on Digital Content Solution

Affordable Learning Georgia was launched last year by the University System of Georgia to create a platform for the free online texts educators were developing. The state Board of Regents kicked in $2.5 million to the effort with a goal of creating content for 26 basic college courses all students at any state public institution could take online.

Small grants were made available to professors creating online content. They ended up with resources for 22 of the 26 classes, called e-Core courses that were targeted. That will add up to $2.7 million in savings on textbooks, according to the chief academic officer of the University System of Georgia.

Faculty at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega, generated digital content for 10 courses from grants they received. Its estimated students will save about $1 million next year using that content.

Affordable Learning Georgia is already upping the ante. A second goal of the initiative was to create online textbooks for the 50 courses with the highest enrollment, but administrators now want content for the top 100 classes.

“I believe it’s going to be the future of delivering content to students, especially for these kinds of courses,” Mark Goodroe, professor of mathematics at the University of North Georgia, told the digital news platform Styrk.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Smartwatches Banned from Exams

A lot of people are buying smartwatches, particularly since the Apple Watch launched. The devices are a little too popular to suit some educators.

A pair of universities in Australia issued warnings against wearing wearable technology to class during final exams, and similar policies could soon be in place at some American universities. La Trobe University in Melbourne barred smartwatches from the exam room, while the University of New South Wales required students to put all wristwatches in clear bags under their desks, according to a report in The Chronicle for Higher Education.

The Educational Testing Service, which gives the Graduate Record exam and the Test of English as a Foreign Language, has for years used wands to make sure test-takers weren’t carrying cellphones. The proctors now use the wands, which are like the ones used in airport security lines, to check for cellphones and watches.

“As we get better at our educational systems, it will seem less like we need to ban these things, because the kinds of things we’ll be putting on an exam students won’t be able to store on a watch,” said Eric Klopfer, director of the Scheller Teacher Education Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Games Aren't Trending in K-12

Maybe gaming in the classroom isn’t that big of a deal. At least that’s the word from the 2015 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report, which retired the concept from its list of emerging technology for K-12.

“We don’t see it making the mainstream,” said NMC CEO Larry Johnson in an article for EdTech. “For most people, it’s just too hard to integrate and there are no tools to make it easier.”

Fundamental concepts of gamification are still on the list, such as awarding digital badges for learning games, which NMC lists as a trend that will be adopted within four or five years. Use of drones and visual data analysis, along with wearable technology, should also be mainstream education tools for K-12 within four to five years.

Classrooms allowing students to bring their own electronic devices for educational purposes, cloud computing, makerspaces with tools such as 3-D printers, and mobile learning are trends making an impact right now. Adaptive learning, 3-D printing, information visualization, and learning analytics should be mainstream trends in two or three years, according to the report.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

TV Show Helps MOOC Hook New Students

The FX television series The Strain is about a city under attack from a mysterious epidemic and a devastating cyber-virus attack. It’s also a great way to teach virus and parasite biology, cybersecurity, and epidemiological modeling.

The software firm Instructure is betting on it by partnering with the video learning company Zaption to create a massive open online course (MOOC) based on the real-world science presented in the show.

“We expect many participants in The Strain MOOC will have never taken an online course before,” Melissa Loble, vice president of partners and programs at Instructure, told eCampus News. “But because of this partnership with Zaption, they will be able to interact with highly engaging video-based content that will enrich the learning experience.”

The MOOC designers are working with the University of California, Irvine (UCI), on content for each unit. That content will be updated weekly with new lecture videos, quizzes, a discussion forum, additional readings, and extra videos based on UCI research.

Students will earn digital badges for each strain completed and have the option of doing a final multimedia project to showcase their learning. Instructors will also be able to monitor discussions to answer questions.

“The entertainment piece is the hook, but we hope people will walk away with a much deeper understanding,” said Chris Walsh, CEO of Zaption. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Digital Natives Not Tech Experts at All

College students in the traditional age cohort (late teens to early 20s) have spent their entire lives using computerized devices and accessing the Internet. As digital natives, they should be the most tech-savvy group on the planet—but they’re not.

In fact, their digital skills are dismal when it comes to the kind of capabilities they need for effective study and later on for work performance. According to THE Journal, the American Institutes for Research (AIR) analyzed data for 5,000 people aged 16-64 on their ability to carry out “practical tasks” using software and digital media.

The millennials in the group (age 16-34) fared poorly. Some 58% “couldn’t solve a multistep problem that required more than one computer application,” THE Journal said. A sample task was to sort, search for, and email data from a spreadsheet.

Even worse, 91% of this age group didn’t think possessing low technology skills would be a deterrent to getting a job after graduation. Of the 19 countries participating in the survey, the U.S. ranked 19th in technology skills for the millennial cohort, even though this group spends an average of 35 hours per week engaging in digital media.

A four-page report released in June 2015 summarizes AIR’s analysis.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Better Quality Needed in Online Courses

Online course offerings have become commonplace, particularly on community college campuses. However, that quantity does not necessarily mean quality, according to a new report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The group found that one in nine online courses offered by community colleges in the state has a pass rate considered “successful,” meaning students doing at least as well as in equivalent traditional courses and in more challenging classes. The study, Successful Online Courses in California Community Colleges, noted that 16% of online courses had acceptable pass rates, compared to 44% of traditional classes.

The report found that the median pass rate was about 10% higher for traditional courses, with online students receiving more failing or incomplete grades. It also noted that the success of an online course depended on the instructor.

“The questions that started this project were, ‘Are there certain subjects better taught online? Are there certain community colleges that do a good job online?’” Hans Johnson, one of the authors of the study, said in a report in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “We thought we may find some patterns by using those kinds of criteria, and the answer is we didn’t.”

Friday, June 19, 2015

10-Minute Videos Preferred in the Classroom

A study on video usage in the classroom found that 71% of responding educators believe the optimal length for viewing is 10 minutes or less. Another 28% preferred videos between 10-30 minutes in length, according to a report in THE Journal.

Authors of the report, The State of Video in Education, felt shorter videos could reflect the fact that students are used to watching videos on YouTube, while the longer lengths might relate to the popularity of the 18-minute TED Talks video format.

The research also found that 91% of the respondents said video had a positive impact on student satisfaction and 82% said it led to higher student achievements. At the same time, 83% of the educators said that ease of use continues to be the biggest need to bring video to the classroom, while 60% reported needing more training and support on tools already available.

“The data in this survey firmly suggest that video technology is a major force in education,” the report concluded. “In the future, students will expect video to be a part of their learning experience and will generate more video content. In 10 years’ time, video will become a standard part of education, will evolve beyond delivery of content, and enable innovative types of teaching and learning. It will gradually take the place of textbooks and will become an increasingly important skill in itself, participating in a shift in the role of the educators.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why Do People Take MOOCs?

There have been plenty of studies about massive open online courses (MOOCs), but not as much is known about those taking the courses. A group of researchers from around the world are interviewing people who have completed a MOOC, asking them to describe their experiences and activities while working through the course.

The researchers interviewed around 70 individuals and discovered that successful online learners possess sophisticated study skills. They also found that the flexibility MOOCs provide is essential and that online learning is an emotional experience for the learners.

“Anxiety, appreciation, embarrassment, and pleasure are some of the emotions that learners used to describe their experience in these courses to us,” George Veletsianos, associate professor at Royal Roads University, Victoria, BC, Canada, wrote in a blog post for Inside Higher Education.

Some learners talked about note-taking strategies and how their use of external resources helped them gain a greater understanding of the topics being taught. A large number said their flexible lifestyle gave them the time to explore more topics of interest.

“By getting to know these invisible learners, we think we can build a better foundation for online learning, the design of digital learning experiences, and the use of technology in education,” Veletsianos wrote. “It is already clear from our initial interviews that in order to create more egalitarian structures for education, we need to start peeling away the multitude of barriers that prevent the most vulnerable populations from participating.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Udemy Hits It Big with Investors

Online learning continues to attract attention from the media and investors. Just days after Google announced it was creating an online certification program in Android development with Udacity, the online course marketplace Udemy said it raised $65 million to fund international expansion.

Udemy already offers courses in 80 languages and half of the company’s existing revenue comes from students outside the United States, according to CEO Dennis Yang. The new funding will help expand its course libraries and enterprise products that companies use for employee training and education.

The Udemy platform provides tools that allow experts to create and sell courses on any topic, or provide them to students for free. Since none of the company’s courses currently offer college credit, most students take them to improve job-related skills.

“We find that the value of formal degrees is going down,” Yang said in an article for Fortune.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Texting May Not Always Be a Distraction

While studies find that mobile devices in the classroom can be a distraction, they are not going away any time soon. Jeffrey Kuznekoff, professor of integrative studies at the Miami University branch in Middletown, OH, decided to take a closer look. He found that students who used their smartphones to text about course content earned scores on par with those who put their phones away in class.

In his study, Mobile Phones in the Classroom: Examiningthe Effects of Texting, Twitter, and Message Content on Student Learning, 145 randomly selected undergrads in communications classes were asked to take notes while watching a 12-minute video lecture on interpersonal communication theories. Students were divided into groups and exposed to different smartphone distractions during the video.

After the distractions, students were allowed a short review period before taking two tests. The first asked students to recall as much information from the video as possible and the second was a 16-question multiple-choice exam on the content.

Students in a control group did score a letter grade higher than those texting on topics unrelated to the lecture, but students who texted about the content had scores similar to the control group. In addition, students asked to tweet every 60 seconds on the content of the video scored higher than those who tweeted every 30 seconds.

“They’re still engaging with the content in some fashion, still mentally processing it,” Kuznekoff said in an article for Inside Higher Education. “That appears, in this short-term experiment, to not have a significantly detrimental effect on learning.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

SEC Filing Sheds Light on B&N Education

Details about Barnes & Noble spinning off its education division recently came to light in a report from Shelf Awareness. Shares of B&N Education, applying to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, will go to current stockholders and no dividends are expected to be paid in the near future.

According to the filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, B&N Education saw its revenue increase to $1.5 billion while its net earnings fell to $19.4 million in the first three months of the current fiscal year, which closed at the end of January.

The filing also noted that B&N Education operated 717 college stores and that its largest area of growth is through its school-branded e-commerce sites at each. The company is planning to increase that number by bidding aggressively on the 53% of college stores still operated by their institutions.

“The prospectus is highly optimistic as to the new company’s prospects,” Nate Hoffelder noted in his post on Ink, Bits, & Pixels. “I, on the other hand, can see that B&N Education faces strong competition in a declining market. It’s not just that students are buying less from their college bookstore, or that B&N Education’s digital textbook offering is a train wreck, but also that it has a couple of established competitors (Follett Higher Education and Nebraska Book Co.) as well as an aggressive newcomer (Amazon) with extensive retail experience and a kill-all-prisoners attitude.”

Friday, June 12, 2015

EdCasting Is a New Form of MOOC

From massive open online courses (MOOCs) have sprung mini-MOOCs.

EdCast, a free open-source audio encoder used to create Internet streaming, has launched EdCast, a social media platform that allows people to post video snippets of educational content, or what is being called “EdCasting.” The content is similar to tweeting, although each post has a video or link that can be described without the 140-character limit, according to a report in eCampus News.

There were 10 EdCasting channels available at the launch, with topics ranging from entrepreneurship to robotics from more than 100 experts in each field. The platform is meant to be an informal learning network that allows users to follow channels, groups, or individuals while allowing educators to organize the content for followers.

“Imagine following teachers or mentors and continuing to see content they endorse on an ongoing basis,” Charlie Chung, chief editor for the MOOC aggregation platform Class Central wrote. “Unlike Twitter, this is not mixed with personal comments or the latest news—it is a pure-play channel for educational content. Also, there is no ‘re-tweeting,’ so that the information flow is not diluted with recycled information. Everything in your feed is a hand-selected link or video.”

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Khan Takes Aim at SAT Test Prep

One of the new features in the SAT college-admission exam for 2016 is a partnership between the nonprofit Khan Academy and the College Board that provides students with free online prep tools. The test preparation material will be also offered through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, making online and in-person tutoring available to students who need more support.

“Our aim is to level the college-assessment practice field,” said David Coleman, CEO and president of the College Board.

Diagnostic tests created by Khan and available to students on the College Board website determine skill level in each section of the SAT and then direct them to videos on the Khan site to review. Students will be able to access four full-length practice tests, personalized practice recommendations, practice questions, video lessons, and quizzes.

“It’s more about learning the material than traditional test prep,” Khan said in a report for National Public Radio. “Not what test prep is traditionally associated with: tricks and ‘When in doubt pick C,’ or test-taking strategies, but mainly the best way to perform well on something like the SAT is to have a mastery of the skills—the math, the reading and writing. That’s the goal. And hopefully it changes people’s perceptions about what test prep actually is.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Get Numbers Straight on Textbook Markup

Affording a college education—including course materials—is a hot topic right now and may become a prominent issue in the upcoming presidential race. Sharing accurate information will be critical to the discussion, however, there is misleading data being bandied about on the Internet.

For example, this post on Wise Bread, a blog community about personal budgeting, calls out college textbooks as one of nine consumer products with supposedly huge markups. The post claims that in the 2014-15 academic year students faced “markups hovering around 200% for brand-new textbooks.”

That doesn’t square with the financial data collected from campus bookstores by NACS’ OnCampus Research. For years, according to survey results, the margin on new textbooks has averaged around 22%. Used texts are about 34% and custom materials are 26%.

“Markup” and “margin” aren’t the same, of course. Markup is what the store adds to the wholesale price to come up with the retail price (what the shopper will pay). Margin is the percentage of the retail price that represents the markup.

Here’s the math for nonretailers: A student buys a textbook from the store for $74.98. Based on NACS’ 22% average, the margin is $16.50, which means the store got the book at wholesale for $58.48 and the markup is 28.2%. That’s a far cry from the 200% alleged by the blog post. If the book is rented to the student, which many campus stores do these days, the markup is typically even lower.

It’s also important for those debating the cost of course materials to understand that neither margin nor markup is synonymous with profit. Out of that margin/markup amount comes staff salaries and benefits, mortgage or rent, insurance, utilities, cleaning and repairs, checkout systems, lighting and shelving fixtures, materials (shopping bags, signage, etc.), shipping fees on almost every product sold in the store, and other normal business expenses.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

App Predicts How Well Students Will Do

There seems to be a smartphone app for just about everything. Now, there’s one that can predict how a will college student perform in class.

Dartmouth College monitored 30 undergraduates for 10 weeks with its SmartGPA app. The app used automatic sensing data from the phone to determine behavior patterns, such as partying and studying. At the end of the period, the app was able to predict the students’ GPA within 17-hundredths of a point  against their cumulative GPA from their transcript.

“College life is complex,” said Andrew Campbell, a Dartmouth computer science professor and senior author of the SmartGPA study. “Students have to balance going to classes and performing well academically with competing demands for their time and energy, but there is no general agreement on why students with similar academic capabilities at the same institution do better or worse than one another.”

The study found stress levels on higher performers increased up to the midterm period and gradually decreased to the end of the term. High performers also kept social conversations briefer towards the end of the term, spent more time studying, were more conscientious about their behavior, and were more upbeat at the end of the term.

The next step is to take the app on the road. Campbell told National Public Radio that he is making plans to do further research with the app at the University of Texas at Austin.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Apple Loses Fight Over Antitrust Monitor

Apple continued its losing streak against the federal government when an appeals court rejected the company’s bid to have Michael Bromwich disqualified as the compliance monitor in its antitrust case.

While the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York noted concerns about some of the allegations against Bromwich, it ruled that District Judge Denise Cote had the right to appoint him to the job. Cote selected Bromwich after deciding that Apple conspired with five major publishers to fix the prices of e-books in 2013.

Apple is appealing the entire decision, but went after Bromwich for being too aggressive in demanding interviews with executives and for charging fees of $1,100 per hour. Bromwich countered that Apple refused to provide him access and adopted an adversarial tone when dealing with him.

“The company largely sat on its hands, allowing issues with the monitor to fester and the relationship to deteriorate,” Judge Jesse Furman wrote about Apple. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Smartphones Are Still Too Delicate

Most young people, and college students in particular, are tethered to their smartphones.  They use them to make purchases, check social media, and even study from time to time. Professors write odes to their distraction.

There is one problem with this picture: Damage or lose the device and you’ve lost contact with the world.

“I can’t begin to explain how isolated I felt,” Jeff Kagan, a columnist for E-Commerce Times, wrote after dropping his iPhone. “You would never understand unless you had a problem with your smartphone yourself. It’s very uncomfortable.”

It’s up to device manufacturers to address the issue, according to Kagan. He would like to see smartphones that are shock- and water-resistant. There also need to be ways to track them if they are lost, and an easy way to shut them off if they are stolen.

“Bottom line—smartphones and apps are the future,” he wrote. “ We can use them as a remote control for our lives. However, if we are actually to trust these devices with our important information, they have to live up to the challenge. Today, they don’t.” 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Plug-In Lets Buyers Shop Amazon, Buy Local

An app developer created a Chrome extension that turns the tables on Amazon, at least in the United Kingdom. BookIndy allows users to browse Amazon.co.uk and buy at participating local bookstores.

The app pulls data from book listings on the Amazon website and checks local stores through Hive.co.uk, an online bookseller. If the participating local store has the book in stock, BookIndy lists the price, a link to Amazon, and the distance in miles to the store.

While the plug-in is available in the Chrome Web Store, it only works with amazon.co.uk. The plug-in does allow users to find the cheapest price available, as well as information on the quickest way to get the title and have it delivered, but the only other examples of similar apps are tied to Amazon in France and to the e-book subscription service Oyster, according to Nate Hoffelder in his blog post for Ink, Bits, & Pixels.

“If you want to support your local bookseller, this is a great idea,” Hoffelder wrote. “I don’t have any local indies within driving distance myself, but given how rare these extensions are, I don’t think the idea is proving as popular as some in book culture would like.”

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Future of Learning is Digital

While technology will play a big part in the future of higher education, a study on digital learning revealed that many colleges and universities still have outdated digital polices that need to change.

The research, Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning, was conducted to help higher education leaders understand how technology could help students learn. One of the biggest takeaways from the study was that institutions have been slow to leverage digital learning technologies.

“The move to digital education mirrors what has happened in much of society, where control shifts to the end user and reflects their needs and interests, not only those of the institution providing a service,” George Siemens, executive director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research (LINK) Lab, said in an article in eCampus News. “To meet this challenge directly, universities need to start evaluating and changing existing policies, strategies, and practices to benefit from digital learning.”

Most learning used to take place under the guidance of an instructor, but online learning and digital technology, such as social media and learning management systems, have made knowledge more easily accessible. Technology has also made it possible to create personalized and adaptive learning programs, providing learners with a more relevant and timely education.

“Higher education is changing,” the report concluded. “Central to this change is the transition from a physically based learning model to one that makes greater use of digital technologies. A brave new landscape of toolsets is now emerging, each with various elements of control, integration, ownership, and structure.”

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Cheap, Cheap: Early Birds Get Science Texts

There’s a science to shopping for science textbooks, according to two plant biologists.

In a report for the Journal of College Science Teaching, two researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens set out to determine if the prices of college-level science textbooks fluctuate in a predictable pattern that coincides with the start and end of academic terms and whether students could save more money if they were able to buy books sooner.

The researchers, doctoral candidate Jeffery Cannon and Professor Peggy Brickman, cited data (including some from NACS) showing that students perform better on exams when they study assigned course materials but that cost is often a barrier to obtaining those materials. If the cost could be reduced, the pair reasoned, then more students would acquire more textbooks and potentially improve their learning.

Cannon and Brickman tracked 45 science titles required for 39 chemistry and biology courses at the University of Mississippi. Every one to two weeks for a full year, they checked the lowest prices and quantities of used copies for sale on Amazon.com. Occasionally, new copies were available for less than used, so those prices were recorded instead.

They found that prices peaked Sept. 9 for fall term and Jan. 13 for spring term. Prices bottomed out, on average, on June 10 and Dec. 2.

If students had purchased their texts at the low point, they could have saved 33% in the fall and 20% in the spring. “However, the only way for students to realize these savings is if students are aware of which textbooks are required for a given course before the end of the semester preceding the course—that is, during class registration,” concluded the report, titled “Helping Students Save: Assigning Textbooks Early Can Save Money and Enhance Learning.”

The pair then examined when biology and chemistry classes at UGA (as Mississippi’s course catalog was no longer available to them) provided textbook requirements. Only 42% listed requirements sufficiently early to enable students to take advantage of the lowest prices.

Monday, June 1, 2015

App Enables E-Books on Apple Watch

“It. Was. The. Best. Of. Times. It. Was. The. Worst. Of. Times.”

That’s how a college student might encounter the opening of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens while reading the classic novel—often assigned for English literature courses—on an Apple Watch. A new app called Wear Reader functions as an e-book reader for the watch.

The 99-cent app basically displays the e-book text word by word. You can adjust the reading speed from 50 words per minute up to 1,000 and jump back to previous text if you missed something. Wear Reader also allows the user to bookmark pages, pause the display, go to a different chapter, and switch among various e-books.

To get an e-book into the watch, though, users must attach the device to an iPhone in order to import the reading material from iCloud or Dropbox. Wear Reader cannot import e-books straight from Apple’s iBooks, but no doubt that capability will be available in a later version.

However, in the opinion of one reviewer for 9to5Mac, what’s the point of reading books on your wrist?

“It’s not only about battery life, but also the user experience overall,” wrote Jordan Kahn. “Not to mention holding your wrist up for much longer is ergonomically terrible, as Steve Jobs would put it.”